The Sweet Science; A Sour Saturday
Now I know how it feels to be a Zab Judah fan:
Rushing to your man’s defense with flimsy excuses after yet another poor outing.
Suspecting he has wasted his talent yet finding reasons to believe he’ll one day cash in on the vast potential he once showed.
Assuring others he’s still relevant even though you don’t quite believe it yourself anymore.
Trying hard not to feel that way about boxing these days, but a pair of bouts from this past weekend…
But I can’t deny they’ve left me deeply disillusioned.
Which is saying a ton, given that the Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson bout was arranged and promoted according to the first principle of expectation management, which states that keeping expectations low makes disappointing your audience damn near impossible.
But the two-round fiasco that saw Dawson lift Hopkins’ WBC light-heavyweight title via the most dubious technical knockout in recent memory managed to achieve the feat.
It’s not like the boxing public demanded Golden Boy and Gary Shaw productions make the fight. It happened because Dawson agreed to step aside and await the winner of the Hopkins-Jean Pascal series rather than immediately pursue a rematch of his own controversial loss to Pascal.
And it’s not like anybody expected fireworks.
Hopkins is a crafty mauler whose rule-bending style is always effective but rarely exciting, and Dawson is a physically gifted fighter who simply doesn’t punch enough. Their pairing seemed a recipe for a closely contested 12-round decision that could double as a sleep aid, and the near absence of pre-fight promotion suggested even the people staging the fight didn’t want to hype a product they knew wouldn’t entertain.
Still, nobody suspected it would end so badly. That Dawson would lift Hopkins off the floor and dump him on the mat late in the second round. That Hopkins, the oldest boxer ever to win a recognized world title, would suffer a suffer a separated shoulder, forcing referee Pat Russell to stop the bout.
At this point, however, nothing has happened that boxing’s defenders (like me) can’t explain away to skeptics and first-time viewers as an unfortunate part of the game. Boxing’s a contact sport, injuries happen. You can’t depend on perfect health in bloodsport any more than you can rely on perfect weather in baseball, and a second-round injury stoppage is akin to a scoreless game washed out by a second-inning thunderstorm.
Crappy luck but part of the game.
There’s no explaining it except to acknowledge that it’s one more shot to a sport whose credibility constantly suffers body blows.
I don’t say that as a Hopkins apologist; a fighter dirty as he is labours under a massive karmic debt and probably deserves every foul he suffers as payback for one he once committed.
That’s the ridiculous precedent Russell risks setting with his decision, which in turn invites appeals from losing fighters and set up the preposterous reality of deciding title bouts in board rooms.
Because that’s where officials from the California State Athletic Commission will ultimately settle Hopkins-Dawson, even though Russell could have averted both controversy and a needless hearing by making the glaringly obvious ruling in the first place.
And if referees invent rules on the spot, surely the commission can empower an official top step in and enforce the rules that actually exist.
Instead we have hearings and muddy rules, and a fighter with a belt he didn’t earn, and who — if the commission doesn’t overturn the referee’s ruling — will be able to tell his grandkids that he knocked out the legendary Bernard Hopkins.
And we’ll have Kimbo Slice, who offered boxing another shot below the belt with his one-punch “destruction” of Tay Bledsoe in Grand Island, Neb. last Saturday.
I’m not going to say that fight was fixed, but… if I later learned a handy man was nearby I wouldn’t be surprised.
Note to Kimbo’s opponents:
While we understand that every action here and telenovela protagonisto has sedatives in each fist, actual one-punch, put-em-straight-to-sleep knockouts are rare in the real world.
And that’s why they’re special.
The rest of the time guys at least try to beat the count, no matter how explosive the punch and no matter how hard they hit the canvas.
So a memo to future Kimbo Slice opponents:
At least try to make us believe it.
And to the folks guiding Kimbo’s ring career:
Do the same.
Casual followers of boxing might look at a string of first-round knockouts and see the second coming of Mike Tyson, but people who follow the sport would look at the same record and see question marks.
The generous among us would question the level of competition, and wonder when the prospect’s management team will match him with a fighter who’ll punch back.
The outright cynics will suspect many of the results are fabricated, and might dismiss the fighter’s entire résumé.
And in the middle are the skeptics, who believe the fights happened but are pretty sure opponents are being paid to take dives.
Any of those scenarios is plausible, and each of them is an insult to boxing fans who have seen old obstacles deaden the mainstream momentum boxing had built in 2007 and 2008.
Whoever you believe is to blame, we’ve seen interpromotional bickering stand between fans and the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao showdown everyone wants to see (consider Arum’s most famous quote and ask yourself if you should take at face value his assertion that Mayweather is scared).
The Klitschkos certainly aren’t to blame, but the lack of a single compelling heavyweight contender from outside their family makes the sport less marketable to North Americans, who still, rightly or wrongly, believe the biggest dollars should flow toward the sport’s biggest fighters.
And while we all know who’s top blame for last Saturday’s fiasco — referee Pat Russell — knowing doesn’t make the result any easier to stomach for fight fans who keep believing in a sport that keeps kicking them in the gut.
Now, if you’re handling Kimbo Slice and think putting together fights so one-sided they look fixed will help grow his fan base, then go ahead.
But you’d do bigger numbers if you helped fix the sport.
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